Vancouver gives Slocum House 90-day lease extension

By Andrea Damewood, Columbian staff writer

Published:

 

Vancouver has granted nonprofit Slocum House Theatre Company a 90-day extension of its current lease as the two parties attempt to negotiate a new contract. The city had informed the troupe last month that it could quadruple its use fees for the historic home near Esther Short Park.

The issue pits the cash-strapped city, which says it can no longer afford to subsidize the use of the house, against the equally cash-strapped theater company, which has occupied its 50-seat theater for 46 years and says the proposed increases would cause it to fold.

Board members late last month said they were told their monthly use fee — the city doesn’t call it “rent” — would increase from $635 to $2,500 a month starting in January. Officials said that would cover the government’s full costs of maintaining and operating the 5,300-square-foot property.

Vancouver General Services Manager Tim Haldeman said Thursday that $2,500 figure is “floating around out there, but this number is part of discussions.”

The Slocum House and the city have plans to meet bi-weekly to work out possible solutions. The next meeting is set for Wednesday.

“We’re waiting to get back together and keep working on this,” he said.

The average cost to the city to maintain and operate the Slocum House per year is $21,660, Haldeman said. That figure, taken from an average of costs over seven years, also does not include capital repairs and improvements, which averaged $31,329 a year over the past decade.

Slocum House Theatre board member Rosina Busse declined to comment on the negotiations, except to say that they were happening and that they are private.

Theater board members said last month that any significant cost increases would sink their operation. They said it would be hard for the troupe to raise ticket prices, which range from $11 to $13 per performance, and there’s no physical space to increase the number of seats in the theater.

But the city, which has reduced its staff to the same level as in 1998 — with more layoffs in Parks and Recreation expected this month — also is struggling to make ends meet.

Vancouver Farmers Market uses a small portion of the Slocum House: It rents a 326-square foot-office at $250 a month. Jim Mains, president of the Vancouver Farmers Market board, said his group has had no discussions with the city over its lease.